Nz kiwi bird

8 of New Zealand’s most unique animals

New Zealand is a country full of unique animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. One of the many reasons to go on a journey through New Zealand. Due to the country’s isolation, the evolution of these unique creatures goes way back in time.

New Zealand was home to more than 300 species of native birds before the European settlers arrived in the 18th Century. And, what about the ‘living dinosaur’, a reptile from prehistoric times? This fascinating animal can also be found in New Zealand. And we haven’t yet mentioned the marine animals that are found along New Zealand’s coastline.

Here are the most interesting and unique animals found in New Zealand

1. Tuatara

The ancient Tuatara is not just any lizard and can live up to 100 years. It is the only surviving reptile from the dinosaur era. A living fossil and a descendant from prehistoric times, at least 220 million years ago. The rare reptile has three eyes and can only be found in a few locations - on Stephens Island and the Poor Knights Islands. 90% of the total population of Tuatara live on Stephens Island but due to its remote location, it is difficult to visit. And the Poor Knights Islands are not accessible to humans. Luckily this special animal can also be spotted in the following places:

2. Fiordland crested penguin

Found in the Fiordland National Park and on the shores of Stewart Island, the Fiordland crested penguin is one of the rarest penguins in the world. These medium-sized penguins can be identified by their black upperparts and head, striking yellow/golden eyebrows and silky white underparts.

Did you know? When breeding, two eggs are laid, the first smaller than the second and they are laid 3 to 6 days apart.

3. New Zealand sea lion (Hooker’s sea lion)

One of the world’s most endangered and largest sea lions can be found in the south of New Zealand’s South Island. You can often spot them sunbathing on the shores of the Otago Peninsula and in The Catlins. Hooker’s sea lions can be identified by their small heads and varying fur colour, depending on their age and gender. Males have a dark brown/black coat with a silver mane. Females and seal pups are a much lighter grey and sometimes even yellow. The younger males go through a stage of being red/brown before becoming dark brown/black.

4. Hector’s dolphin

Hector’s dolphins are the smallest and rarest dolphin in the world. They can be identified by their grey back and round-shaped black dorsal fin. The face, tail, flippers and the area around the blowhole are also black. These playful dolphins are often found near the coastline, in water no deeper than 100 metres. Hector’s dolphins like to swim in groups of 2 to 8 and are between 1 and 1.5 metres in length. The best place to spot them is in Akaroa Harbour, close to Christchurch.

Jumping dolphins in Kaikoura | New Zealand wildlife
© Hans Wijker
Nz kaikoura dolphins family header

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5. New Zealand bat (Lesser short-tailed bat or Mystacina tuberculata)

The New Zealand bat is one of the few native land mammals and can only be found in New Zealand. An endangered species that is only found in a few places, one being the Fiordland National Park. When you think of bats, you probably associate them with flying, but this is not the case with the New Zealand bat. You will see them mainly on land, foraging on the forest floor and climbing trees.

6. Kiwi, the most famous New Zealand bird

The Kiwi bird is a national icon. A rare, small and flightless nocturnal bird that can only be found in New Zealand, of course! Despite their popularity, you will have to be quite patient when attempting to spot the Kiwi. It is a shy, nocturnal bird and likes to stay hidden. The best place to spot this native bird in the wild is on Kapiti Island or Stewart Island.

Spot a Kiwi | New Zealand wildlife
© TravelEssence

7. Yellow-eyed penguin (Hoiho)

Similar to most penguins, the yellow-eyed penguin has a white stomach and a black back. But what makes this penguin so special is the yellow eyes and feathers around the nape. Yellow-eyed penguins are shy birds and can only be found in New Zealand. The Maori name is ‘Hoiho’ which means noise shouter. This is due to their loud and high-pitched calls. As an endangered species, you can find them mainly in the southeast of New Zealand, on Stewart Island and in the Banks Peninsula.

Yellow-eyed penguin | New Zealand wildlife

8. Kea

Besides the iconic Kiwi, the Kea bird is also one of New Zealand’s most unique birds. Why? Because it is the world's only mountain parrot. This cheeky parrot is forever entertaining and you will find them on New Zealand’s South Island in forests and mountainous areas. Are you visiting Mount Cook, Arthur’s Pass or Fiordland National Park? These three locations are great places to spot these native birds. The curious and clever Kea has adapted to the changing climate over 10,000 years and eats almost anything to survive.

Spectacular locations with more unique New Zealand animals

Did you know that New Zealand has the largest most accessible gannet colony in the world? Cape Kidnappers has approximately 20,000 gannets nesting between September and April. Did you also know that you can go whale watching in New Zealand all year round? In the coastal waters of Kaikoura, the northern and southern sea current combine in the Hikurangi Trench. Creating nutrient-rich water with an abundance of food that attracts whales but also seals, albatross and dolphins.

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